The Antiques Rogue Show, an Examination of Dutch Art in Crime – the 2019 Unilever Lecture

From the announcement in the Winter newsletter:

The Netherlands and Dutch art have a special place in art history straddling a period from the 1400’s to the twentieth century, incorporating many of the acknowledged great masters such as Jan van Eyck, Brueghel, Rembrandt, Vermeer and van Gogh who between them have created many of the most iconic works of art in the world.

It is hardly surprising that such great works of art have attracted the attention of many of the world’s great institutions and private collectors often paying world record prices for these paintings. Why then, if they are so well known and unique, do the works of such artists attract equal attention from the criminal fraternity?

The lecture will examine the place of Dutch Art in “Art Crime” and will explain the motives behind the criminals involved in what is today a global problem. It will explore the methods used to expose these crimes and recover the stolen art from the criminal underworld.

Richard Ellis is an internationally recognised art crime investigator with over 30 years’ experience. A career detective with the Metropolitan Police, he served in Special Operations at New Scotland Yard where he founded and ran the Art & Antiques Squad until 1999 when he left to become General Manager of Christie’s Fine Art Security Services. In 2000 he returned to the investigation and recovery of stolen art as Managing Director of Trace recovery services and in 2005 established his own company, the Art Management Group. His many recoveries include Munch’s “The Scream”, over 7,000 antiquities looted from China and Egypt and most recently paintings by Lempicka and Dali stolen and recovered in The Netherlands.

Since 2008 he has been an Expert Advisor to the UK Government on International Loans to Museums and has attended UNESCO workshops as an expert on the protection and recovery of cultural property. He is a founding trustee of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) and lectures extensively on art crime.

From the report in the Spring newsletter:

Whether the subject of this year’s Unilever Lecture attracted even more applications than in recent years will remain an open question, but it suffices to say that one hundred available places were applied for within two weeks. This, unfortunately, led to a fairly long waiting list which only towards the actual date of the Lecture could be turned into firm places for most because of cancellations. Hopefully those who had to be disappointed this year will not be next year.

This year we were treated to a fascinating lecture, given by Richard Ellis, who is an internationally recognized art crime investigator with over 30 years’ experience, ten of which were spent in New Scotland Yard, where he founded and ran the Art & Antiques Squad. Connie Sangster, Council member and Chairman of our Events Committee, had seen Richard on a television programme in the Netherlands and had considered this to be an excellent subject for our annual Unilever Lecture. Fortunately, Richard happily agreed to be our guest speaker for our 29th Unilever Lecture.

Our Chairman, Dick van den Broek, introduced Mr Sagar Padhiar, VP Pensions and Equity at Unilever, who welcomed members present on behalf of our Patron of so many years. This was followed by the introduction of our guest speaker after which we all sat back in anticipation of a lecture with such an intriguing title.

Richard had adapted his lecture to talk mainly about stolen Dutch paintings. He told us that Dutch Art is the most frequently stolen and faked, as there are so many Dutch paintings in museums and private collections.

The thieves target the smaller museums and, for that matter, smaller paintings, as these are easier to transport and conceal. Private collections are also targeted.
Some paintings are so popular with the thieves, that they are stolen more than once, for instance the Rembrandt ‘Portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III’ (a.k.a. “The Take-away Rembrandt”) in the Dulwich Art Gallery, which was stolen and recovered four times. Again, it is a small painting (29.9 x 24.9 cm) so easily transported and concealed.

Richard Ellis told us that stolen Dutch paintings are often held as collateral in drug deals; in lieu of cash or as a bargaining tool to reduce a prison sentence and that the recovery is particularly difficult in the case of international criminal gangs and when a painting has been taken abroad. Every country has different rules as to the limitation of time of recovery; client confidentiality has to be taken into consideration; trusts are used; there is low due diligence and at present the internet plays a role.

Paintings have also been stolen for political reasons. In 1974 Rose Dugdale organized a theft from Russborough House, in Ireland. Rose Dugdale was a member of the IRA and the IRA demanded the release of prisoners. The paintings were recovered and no ransom was paid.

Richard Ellis gave another example : this time a theft at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002. The theft was organized by Octave Durham. Stolen were: ‘View of the Sea at Scheveningen’ and ‘Congregation Leaving the Church at Nuenen’. As Octave Durham said “They were the smallest paintings”. The two paintings were recovered, after 14 years, in the home of an Italian mobster, with the help of the Italian Guardia di Finanza. They were hidden in a space in the wall. Mr. Durham was arrested in Spain and spent 25 months in jail.

One of the most important art crimes, and one that has unfortunately not been solved, took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on St. Patrick’s Eve 1990, when 13 important works of art were stolen, amongst them ‘The Concert’ by Vermeer, and a Rembrandt seascape. Although the reward for recovery has recently been raised to $ 10 million, this robbery remains unsolved.

Richard Ellis also talked to us about Fakes and Forgeries.
Han van Meegeren became world famous for faking important Dutch 17th C paintings. His ‘Supper at Emmaus’ (1937), was recognized as a Vermeer painting by none other than Abraham Bredius, a Vermeer expert, despite the fact that there were no other paintings known by Vermeer with a religious theme and the style of the image was very different from other Vermeer paintings.

John Myatt became famous for his fakes, but after time spent in jail, he now paints so-called ‘Genuine Fakes’ and makes a good living. Both the above painters wanted to prove their ability as a painter to the art world, which had rejected them.

Finally, Richard Ellis showed us fake Holocaust Art, complete with Nazi codes and stamps. Apparently there is a thriving market for Holocaust Art, so fakes have appeared.
It was a fascinating lecture and the Anglo-Netherlands members present acknowledged this with a warm applause.

Our President, Sir Michael Perry, thanked Richard Ellis for his talk that was not only very informative because of his vast experience but also skillfully tailored to ANS’ roots. Richard enlightened us with another successful Anglo Dutch connection: art crime! Sir Michael ended his eulogy by making a solemn promise to look for a pinhole in each future Vermeer painting he would be admiring.

With all this in mind, we proceeded to the eighth floor where Michael Levy, Danny Stahn, and their staff had prepared the Skyline restaurant beautifully for a delicious dinner against the background of the gleaming lights of London. A superb meal with excellent wines, served by most attentive staff. A heartfelt thanks to them and Unilever was expressed by our Chairman for making this every year again such a memorable evening, as well as to Connie Sangster for having found such an interesting guest speaker and the organization of the evening.

The event took place on the evening of Tuesday 12 March.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.